Could purchasing second-hand/ pre-loved fashion be a privilege?

This article is a very intriguing, first hand account from Ella Peters for Fix That Shirt on the subject of purchasing second-hand/ pre-loved fashion. Ella has a background in international development management, has a lovely dog and currently lives between Spain and the UK. She’s well travelled and her curious nature has helped her experience several different worlds in her very young age.

Through this article, we aim to share Ella’s very interesting views and approach to one of the many topics under sustainable fashion.

So if you are up for a short, fun read, we invite you to dive right in.

Buying second-hand fashion may not be a possibility for everyone.

Buying second hand is seen as a sustainable way to expand your wardrobe. I’m not at all denying that but I have never considered the privilege I have of purchasing preloved clothing. It needs to be a conversation we are having and a topic we are discussing.

To some, it feels that there is a lot of pressure to shop sustainably, to buy second hand but it is not always an option. Especially with so many sustainable fashion bloggers / influencers promoting it. However, sometimes it is not accessible, affordable, or appropriate (size, style etc.) for the wearers needs. Therefore, we need to think twice before creating an opinion of people for buying new garments.

Having grown up in the UK, with easy access to charity shops, boot sales and vintage stores, I could (nine times out of ten) find the sort of thing I was looking for second hand (of course it sometimes took a while). This is not the case for everyone so it’s important to consider this privilege.


A closer look….

Within Europe the landscape on shopping sustainably is drastically different, for example between big cities and rural areas and between wealthier/more sustainably advanced countries the options vary greatly. In the Netherlands thrift/second hand/vintage stores are everywhere and it is very common for anyone to shop with them. Whereas in Hungary these stores are mostly in found in Budapest, thrift stores outside of the capital are more ‘old school’ and are a “bit behind in the evolution of thrifting” according to Anna Ádám (Hungarian thrifting superstar studying sustainable development in the Netherlands).

For people who require specific garments, these can be hard to find preloved, you need to have a lot of time to search for the right thing and many of us don’t have hours to stroll around. We need to acknowledge that many are time poor and don’t have the privilege to be meandering through thrift stores searching for the perfect item! Additionally, when thrifting it can be tricky to find garments that ‘works for you’ in terms of shape, style, fit, size etc.! This can absolutely be a disheartening experience and thus many prefer to shop from a brand that they know caters to their size/style needs as it is far more convenient and doesn’t leave you feeling drained.

The supply & demand equation

Thrifting has become so popular and is very much on trend, so is it still supporting those it was originally intended to support? Or has demand increased prices and made second hand so lucrative that those who actually need it struggle to access these clothes. Noticeably in the UK, Netherlands, and Germany the cost of second-hand fashion has increased in recent years. Therefore, if cash is tight, many find it makes more sense to shop from high street brands. This aspect goes hand in hand with the ridiculously low prices offered by fast fashion.

Image on the right: Ella Peters the author.


A few experiences from around the world:

In India buying second hand can invoke ideas that the wearer cannot afford new clothes, this can come with cultural problems. This means that sometimes people don’t want to buy second hand as it creates family tension as relatives are concerned, they cannot afford new clothing, thus impacting perspectives on social status and success.

In Venezuela there is a little awareness of the merits of buying and wearing secondhand clothes. There are also very few places where desirable/trendy second hand clothing can be brought. It’s much easier and commonplace to buy new and fit in with this season’s style ‘must haves’.

South Africa, like in many other places, consumers face the same challenges and used clothing is often seen as an inferior to buying new. It is also not widely available so access to it is difficult for many, especially when buying new is so convenient.

Concluding thoughts

By shopping second hand and not encountering for these kind of situations, we really need to acknowledge our privilege and that it is simply not feasible for all.
If you are not able to shop pre-loved, any steps taken in enhancing the circularity of fashion value chains through diverting garments from land fill is a positive. A great way this can be done when buying new is to wear the clothes for as long as possible and then fix (hello Fix That Shirt!!) or donate them when the time comes.

The purpose of this article is absolutely not to detract away from buying second hand, but to bring awareness to the struggles many face in shopping sustainably. It should also be reiterated that buying pre loved is not the only way to shop sustainably and consciously!!

Without a doubt we must acknowledge this is a nuanced topic and care has been taken regarding this. Thoughts and comments are very welcome to open the discussion on the topic as then we can all grow and learn to be better as we open.

Note: this is not an exhaustive list of aspects, there are many more (including issues around gender etc.)

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